Miles on Movies
Yes, the creep factor is definitely there in this April to January romance. (May to December is too short a time frame for their age difference.) But it is also a deeply touching (oops!) rumination on friendship, old age, infirmity, mortality and the joys of life.
Peter O’Toole plays Maurice, a boyish septuagenarian and still working actor who pursues the provincial grandniece of his good friend. Jessie, played by ingénue Jodie Whittaker, has been sent to the city to care for her great-uncle, Ian played by Leslie Phillips. Ian’s prissy ways are too demanding for her abilities and shallow couth. Vanessa Redgrave plays Maurice’s ex-wife and confidant.
O’Toole’s aged actor takes her under his wing in this story reminiscent of Pygmalion. He introduces her to the theater and gets her a job as a studio art model. In his often bumbling and sometimes deft attempts at seduction, we cringe at the disturbing possibilities.
There is more here than just a decrepit Lothario trying to take advantage of a naïve young woman. For she is no slouch and more is going on than first we assume.
We get to see the world of the old, as lived by them, the hospitals, sleepy cafés and doctors offices that make up their day, the small flats full of the small decorative touches accumulated from a long life, the world of actors and their friends and rivals and their departed friends and rivals.
The screenplay is by Hanif Kureishi, who specializes in oddball romances. His “My Beautiful Launderette” and “Sammy and Rosy Get Laid” were some of my favorite British art films of the ’80’s.
There is a train travel sequence that captures the dreariness of the English urban landscape in winter, which helps to frame the denouement. It’s not often that films set in England are so honest about the drab architecture in most of their cityscapes.
This is a brave piece of acting by O’Toole, one of his bravest. He lets us see his characters’ flaws, peccadilloes and creeping decrepitude in ways that few would want to have exposed to the world. Having seen the 70mm version of “Lawrence of Arabia” last summer at the Castro, it was painful for me to see the ravages of time on his face and frame, especially in the close-ups. But O’Toole does not hold back the consequences of his years from us, and that is noble in its own way.
Ultimately this film is about the joy of what it means to live a full life. And it’s very funny most of the time. I’m no fan of Valentine’s Day, it’s a long story, but this film is perfect for a pair of lover’s to view tomorrow.
Here’s what my friend Susan Lamont wrote me yesterday about “Venus”: “Venus is great. All the acting is wonderful. Aphrodite/Venus as the goddess of love who brings chaos and conflict is apropos.”